19 September 2011

Citizens Advice Bureaux: coming to a church near you

Citizens Advice is working with churches and other places of worship across the country to make advice services more accessible, particularly for those living in remote areas. This will provide face to face advice in the local community rather than users having to travel significant distances.

Faithful Advice: A guide for advice services in places of worship Faithful Advice: A guide for advice services in places of worship published at the Citizens Advice service's annual conference, provides practical examples and guidelines for churches to set up face to face advice sessions on their premises. The guidelines acknowledge that as the public sector cuts bite, churches can play a vital role in offering premises for advice sessions, particularly where there are no alternative sites available locally. The resulting services can save people having to travel up to 50 miles for face to face advice.

Building on the knowledge and experience gained by pioneering examples of advice centres in churches, the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division of the Church of England and the National Rural Officers for the Church of England, the Church Urban Fund and the Methodist and United Reformed Churches have been working in partnership with national charity Citizens Advice to produce this guidance specifically for places of worship.

The Rt Revd John Gladwin, former Bishop of Chelmsford and Chair of Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said: "In an era when the demand for advice services is increasing and funding cuts may result in advice outreach locations such as libraries facing closure, advice agencies must find cost effective ways of ensuring people can get the face to face advice they need. By working with faith organisations, Citizens Advice Bureaux have already established partnerships which enable them to reach out and provide advice services to some of the most vulnerable and disengaged sections of our communities."

Graham Jones Rural Officer for the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church based at the Arthur Rank Centre said: "There are already some excellent examples of churches collaborating with CAB to deliver face to face advice services to less accessible communities. Our hope is that these guidelines will help develop this relationship and lead to a growing number of churches acting as partners and hosts in this way. Building on previous guidelines encouraging churches to host post offices and community shops, here is further evidence of the churches' commitment to playing their part in meeting the needs and challenges of rural and isolated communities."

Case studies
Nottingham CAB runs a drop-in general advice service for two and a half hours every Monday morning at St Mark's CofE Church, Bestwood village. The CAB report that "The fact that they provide volunteers to simply be in the building and provide backup in terms of personal safety is very important to us".

North Somerset CAB run an outreach service in the community centre at Nailsea Methodist Church every Friday between 10am and 2pm. This enables individuals to get face to face advice without having to travel 20 miles to the main bureau, while Berwick CAB operated a service in the URC in Wooler, a market town 25 miles from the main bureau. The service was highly valued by clients and produced some great successes gaining benefits for older clients and wages for migrant workers.

East Lindsey CAB, working with Spilsby Methodist Church in Lincolnshire, was successful in securing funding to develop part of the church as a community centre on the ground floor with interview rooms, a community area, kitchen area and toilets and upper floor as a "Bunk Barn" offering basic overnight accommodation for tourists. This is run as a social enterprise to support "Spilsby Meeting Point". This involved partnership work with Methodist Church, CofE, Age UK and other community based organisations.

The guidance is available online here: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/aboutus/publications/faithful_advice.htm.  

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